Subnet Replacement: Deployment-stage backdoor attack against deep neural networks in gray-box setting

Xiangyu Qi, Jifeng Zhu, Chulin Xie, Yong Yang

We study the realistic potential of conducting backdoor attack against deep neural networks (DNNs) during deployment stage. Specifically, our goal is to design a deployment-stage backdoor attack algorithm that is both threatening and realistically implementable. To this end, we propose Subnet Replacement Attack (SRA), which is capable of embedding backdoor into DNNs by directly modifying a limited number of model parameters. Considering the realistic practicability, we abandon the strong white-box assumption widely adopted in existing studies, instead, our algorithm works in a gray-box setting, where architecture information of the victim model is available but the adversaries do not have any knowledge of parameter values. The key philosophy underlying our approach is -- given any neural network instance (regardless of its specific parameter values) of a certain architecture, we can always embed a backdoor into that model instance, by replacing a very narrow subnet of a benign model (without backdoor) with a malicious backdoor subnet, which is designed to be sensitive (fire large activation value) to a particular backdoor trigger pattern.

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